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Angels in the Outfield

Today we gathered in a modest and beautiful parish in rural Bien Hoa, where Father Tich led us to a separate room in the back of his church. There, he opened a fridge filled with countless containers of bloody fetuses that were prepared for burial. It is well known that the abortion rate in Vietnam is sky-high. There are 83 abortions per 1000 women of childbearing age in Vietnam, which ranks it the country with the highest abortion rate in the world. Abortions have never been socially taboo in Vietnam and the official rate of some 500,000 abortions per 2.4 million pregnancies per year - around one in five - only counts procedures from state-run clinics. It is observed that the sexual behavior among young Vietnamese people has radically transformed in the last few decades. They have sex earlier and marry later, yet the state's old fashioned family planning services offer little advice to or suitable contraception to young, unmarried couples as sex out of wedlock remains highly frowned upon. If they get an unwanted pregnancy, the only way out is an abortion due to social stigma and dishonor to family. Even post abortion counseling is limited and so some young women end up having repeated abortions.

In the last two years, Father Tich has received and buried 8300 aborted fetuses from the surrounding region. Abortion is legal in Vietnam for up to 22 weeks gestation, although as you can see by the large box on the second shelf, fetuses are aborted up to even 8 months of gestation illegally. Gender selection and male preference is not just a Chinese problem and pushes the abortion rate even higher in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government thus makes it illegal to know the sex of the fetus prior to delivery. However, these rules and laws aren't strictly enforced.

Father Tich and his parishioners receive aborted fetuses from private and state-run clinics from the surrounding region. Otherwise, they would be considered garbage and be discarded as so. He blesses the fetuses and gives them holy names. Males are named "Joseph" and females are named "Mary". He then buries the them in a beautifully bright and colorful gravesite so that they can rest in peace with duly deserved dignity. He handles the fetuses with so much tender love and care and with the utmost respect. His eyes were ignited with passion when he described his work to us. His devotion is unquestionable. I am far from a religious person but I could not deny the ever so spiritual aura of his parish. There was something mystical about his church. It must have been the floral scent of the incense candles, the radiant sun, clear blue sky, and warm swift breeze in my hair as I gathered with a hundred of his parishioners to pray for the little souls buried beneath our feet. Opinions on what constitutes life may differ, but as I stood there, I have never felt more appreciative of the sacredness of my life and what I can do with it. This blessed life of mine can be lead in any direction that I please. I have opportunity. I have choice. I choose One Body Village.

Father Tich also opens his doors to young girls and women pregnant outside of wedlock. These women seek shelter and refuge in his church as they are often shunned and disowned by family. If it wasn't for his generosity and care, these girls and women would probably have resorted to abortion. He offers them food, shelter, and vocational training. The girls and women can stay for up to three months and 10 days after delivery. Should they require more time and help raising their child, they can stay longer in an adjacent shelter on church grounds. For those who would have otherwise chosen abortion, it was heartwarming to see the love and affection that the new mothers offered their newborns. I took note of the joy in their face and the pride in their stance as they embraced their precious babies. "I made the right choice", a young mother told me.

The complex for the young girls and women was quite clean. Each room is shared by 2-3 pregnant ladies. There are 13 rooms in this complex. Girls as young as 14 and women as old as 39 years old who were shunned by family live on the church grounds. Every month, the girls and women need to pay only $100,000 VND ($5 USD) for the cost of their food. All other expenses, including funding for education, is sponsored by Father Tich's church. For extra income, the women wrap these (albeit recycled and reused) candies to sell to Cambodia. They earn $2000 VND per one kg. Note to self - do not buy candies in Cambodia.

We battle so much evil today and the future is made to appear discouraging by many. Unsung heroes like Father Tich, whose work exists without fame or recognition, inspire me to continue my work with One Body Village. He has made a difference in the lives of so many young girls and women by giving them freedom, choice, and opportunity that surely I can do the same with sexually exploited children. That is my calling.

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